Grading the Lexington catalogue, thoughts on banked turns and why the good old days were better

All in the latest edition of harness racing’s most popular advice column.

by Ron Gurfein

Tidbits: It was a fabulous weekend of racing. Team Alagna led by (Donna Lee) stole the show north of the border with a one, two, three finish in the Nassagaweya with the Captains: Midnight, Nemo and Kirk all sons of Captaintreacherous and all owned by Marvin Katz, Brad Grant et al.

Donna Lee ended the night with the superbly-talented Captaintreacherous filly Reflect With Me winning the Eternal Camnation with a change in tactics from her previous romp. Andy McCarthy elected to race the 1-9 choice from off the pace adding a bit of drama to what could have been a lackluster walk in the park. The brilliant filly is also owned by Brad Grant as well as Brittany Farms who bred her.

In the other division, Alicorn a daughter of Bettors Delight owned by Windermere Stable and Robert Mascara destroyed the competition with a five-length jog for Louis Roy and trainer Chantal Mitchell.

At Yonkers Raceway, Bettors Wish continued his quest for year-end honors easily winning his non-betting Messenger elimination for Chris Ryder and Dexter Dunn.

On the card, Aflame Hanover took his division in hand for Corey Callahan and Linda Schadel.

This is truly a “believe it or not.” A reader whose name I refuse to publish tried to make a case that my crusade for integrity in the sport was damaging its overall existence. His claim is that by punishing the criminal trainers we are losing too many big owners because the big owners tend to drop out of the business when their trainers get major suspensions or banishment. Can you top this?

For those of you interested in European racing and a noticeable difference between the French-bred trotter and the American, the Arqana Trot website ( has an online catalogue of the French Yearlings selling the first week in September. Sires we have seen in America like Ready Cash, and Love You, as well as Bold Eagle and dozens more are represented. Some of the videos are amazing as they portray a larger more imposing figure of an equine than we see in the U.S. in sale videos.

I was particularly impressed with number 40 Idaho Springs, a son of Ready Cash. However, when I looked at his pedigree page although difficult to interpret (more like a thoroughbred catalogue page) I was less impressed. If you have the time and or the inclination, I think you will enjoy a peek.

It’s sad Yonkers Raceway has an open draw for the Messenger. Why is simple. Bettors Wish drew the rail — wonderful — but Aflame Hanover winning an elimination and drawing post eight is not acceptable. The rule must be changed or why bother to race your horse in an elimination. May be better off going around twice and exerting enough energy to qualify.

Perry Robbins asks: What do you think about the 2019 Lexington Selected Yearling Sale?

To be honest, I haven’t looked past opening night, and that is to me the most powerful first session I have ever seen. If the horses look anywhere close to as good as the pedigree pages do, all previous records will fall. Out of the 121 offerings there is but a handful that are not in the $100,000 category, and some if they look the part could hit the $500,000 plus area. Imagine if the horse and video are great for the full brother to Greenshoe or the first foal of Mission Brief.

Coming next week a special on the amazing Lexington Selected Sale, titled “Are we going to see the first $1 million yearling in Lexington this October?”

Bill Bigler asks: When I talk to you “Old Timers” you always tell me that the business was so great in past years and just isn’t as much fun today, why is that?

I am sure there are many reasons, and no doubt I will leave some out, but I will fill you in on my basic thoughts. To begin with, if you are a performer in any venue you prefer to have a large audience. I started my career at Roosevelt Raceway in the ‘60s where it wasn’t unusual to have 25,000 in the stands and close to 50,000 for a major event. I told the newcomers that the crowds were so big that on the night of the International if you were on the apron and you had a heart attack you couldn’t fall down as there was no room.

Then there was the social aspect that totally dissolved when barn areas closed.

In those what I call golden days, we all were stabled at the racetrack. Therefore, after the races we were all in a local area and there was a great social connection. Every track had one or more local hangouts. Roosevelt had Gam Wah where you would find Buddy Gilmour, John Chapman, Carmine Abatiello, Lucien Fontaine, Ben Webster, the Popfingers, Frank and Bill, the Haughtons, the Dancers, and a myriad of other stars nightly.

At the Meadowlands it was the Bottom of the Barrel where nightly appearances of the Remmens, John and Paula Campbell, Billy O’Donnell, Luc Ouellette, Jacky Mo, and other famed horseman would congregate and often be entertained by the voice of Herman Carbone singing Ave Maria and other favorites.

At Monticello, there were so many places. The Chateau, The Down Under, and Johnnies, come to mind, but luckily we had all the hot hotels, the Concord, the Raleigh, the Pines, and Kutchers to name a few. At any of these spots on a given night you could find members of famous local families such as the Gilmours, the Lutmans, the Manzis, plus names such as Rolla, Gigante, Donofrio, DelGatto, Berkner, DeSantis,Brewer, and Glantz.

In Vernon, it was The Squat ‘n Gobble. In Pompano, it was the Greenbrier, the same name as the local horseman’s hangout at a Garden State Park. If you were racing at Liberty Bell, it was the Holiday Inn on Street Road.

I could go on and on but I am sure you understand by now that the trend to shipping in has totally changed the social dynamics of the game I have loved so much it gave me a life that would be hard to replicate in a different business.

David Marshall asks: What do you think about the new banked turns at the Meadowlands? Is there some way we can get Pocono to bank it’s turn so we could have more competitive racing there?

This is far from a new concept. I have seen this at every track I raced at in some point in time. Yonkers to me was the first really radical change. There was almost a ten foot drop from the center of the track to the rail in the turns.

The good news is that it works, the bad news is that it doesn’t seem to stay that way and slowly but surely over time between nature, the track conditioners and graders it levels out. But in the beginning it is fabulous.

It is simple physics. The saucer effect of the graded turn keeps the sulky in on the turn instead of being pulled out by centrifugal force. This makes it easier for a horse to maintain his speed while going two, three or four wide in the corner. It is important to note that the grade must be elevated enough to accommodate a four-wide move so it should encompass a large percent of the track in the turn before it levels out in the straightaway. It will be an improvement and hopefully be maintained properly. The percentage of the grade will ultimately determine the value of the endeavor.

As for Pocono, I hate to beat a dead horse, but they are very cost conscious when it comes to anything horse related. For sure, radically changing the track grade is a very expensive proposition. Their small handle as it is today doesn’t suggest that the investment would show much of a return, although I really believe that it would be a major improvement to their product. They are bottom line guys, so don’t expect any radical changes in the near future.

You can’t make a comparison between the grading effect at the Meadowlands to Pocono simply because of the popularity of the product and the wagering figures. If you improve the competitiveness at a track handling $3 million a night by 25 per cent it’s a big deal. If you do the same with a handle of $300,000 what have you achieved? From a pure numbers point of view, not enough to merit that large of an investment.

A huge week of racing, on the trot we had the Champlain 2YOFT trot last night and the colts tonight and the Maple Leaf Trot Saturday at Mohawk, the Hudson Filly and The Yonkers Trot also Saturday, plus the Ohio finals for all gaits Sunday at Northfield as well as the continued KYSS at the Red Mile. On the pace, we have the Lady Maud and The Messenger at Yonkers Saturday and the Simcoe and the Canadian Pacing Derby at Mohawk the same evening. Please keep the questions coming in and have a wonderful week.

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